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Saturday, October 30, 2010
Finally, one goes according to form


Game 3 wasn't about the breaks (unless you count Mitch Moreland hitting a home run against a left-handed pitcher).

Game 3 wasn't about the managers (though it would have been, if Buster Posey had been able to do something against Darren O'Day).

Game 3 was about the pitchers.

Colby Lewis out-pitched Jonathan Sanchez. Simple as that. And this should have surprised absolutely nobody.

During the regular season, Sanchez went 13-7 with a 3.07 ERA. Meanwhile, Lewis went 12-13 with a 3.72 ERA.

Granted, if that's all you knew, you would be excused for thinking the Giants entered Game 3 with a solid edge on the mound.

But we know so much more. We know that the ERA in the American League is slightly higher than the ERA in the National League (largely because pitchers don't "hit" in American League games). We know that Lewis' team plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark, while Sanchez's team plays in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.

If you've already somehow added all of that up, you know that Lewis's ERA was roughly 16 percent better than league average, and that Sanchez's ERA was roughly 33 percent better than league average.

Still a solid edge for the Giants, you might ... Ah, but we know still so much more. We know that Sanchez struck out roughly twice as many hitters as he walked this season, which is pretty good ... except Lewis struck out three times as many hitters as he walked. We know that Sanchez gave up 21 home runs in 193 innings this season, which is pretty good ... except Lewis gave up exactly as many homers in slightly more innings while facing slightly better hitters.

We know, most of all, that pitchers are most able to control three things: strikeouts, walks, and home runs ... and that in 2010, Lewis was superior to Sanchez in each of those categories. Lewis, in almost every way except the two ways we by which measured pitchers for so many years, out pitched Sanchez in 2010. Considering that the Rangers finished fourth in the American League in scoring and the Giants finished ninth in the National League, we simply had no reason to think the Giants would beat the Rangers in Game 3.

Speaking of non-surprises, I'm not sure that Lewis's season should have been considered a huge surprise. He did enter the season with a 6.71 career ERA in the majors. But even if we ignore his two brilliant seasons in Japan -- during which he went 26-17 with a 2.82 ERA and a Cliff Lee-like strikeout-to-walk ratio -- there have always been reasons to like Lewis.

He has always thrown reasonably hard (roughly as hard as Jonathan Sanchez, in case you didn't know). And before going to Japan, he'd shown a fair amount of promise in the minor leagues. When he was only 23, Lewis earned a rotation slot with the Rangers following two impressive Triple-A stints. Four years later -- having been waived by the Rangers, gone unsigned by the Tigers, and released by the Nationals, Lewis joined the Athletics. He spent roughly half of that season (2007) in the big club's bullpen, didn't pitch well. He spent the other half of that season with Triple-A Sacramento and pitched brilliantly: 1.88 ERA, strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 4.

After which the A's waived him to the Royals, who released him a month later. Having been employed (however sometimes briefly) by five teams in slightly more than three years, Lewis next signed with the Carp of Hiroshima. You know everything since.

What Bruce Bochy knows is that he couldn't have done anything about Lewis in Game 3. Bochy's only real option was getting Travis Ishikawa into the lineup rather than Pablo Sandoval (who took the collar in three at-bats). But even if we mostly ignore those players' respective histories (which favor Sandoval) it's not likely that Ishikawa accounts for three runs that Panda doesn't.

Bochy wasn't out-managed in Game 3; his team was out-hit and out-pitched.

Game 7 might be a different story. Game 7, if it happens, figures to be a rematch of Game 4, Sanchez versus Colby Lewis. And for all the propitious moves that Bochy has made in October, making Sanchez his No. 3 starter might not be one of them.

Since his fantastic start against the Braves in the Division Series, Sanchez has started three games and pitched 12-1/3 innings. If this World Series goes the distance, Sanchez will start two games while Madison Bumgarner -- who pitched better than Sanchez during the regular season, and has pitched better than Sanchez in the postseason -- will have started just once.

If this World Series goes the distance and the Giants lose, all of Bochy's moves might be forgotten because the Giants might have lost because Bochy didn't trust the rookie's numbers.